November 23, 2009

Luncheon with the Prime Minister of India today

I am in Washington DC currently to be part of the state visit of the Prime Minister (PM) of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh. The stature of "state visits" is normally reserved for heads of states, which technically is not the case with the Prime Minister of India. That status constitutionally belongs to the President of India, which however is a nominated position and acts only as a nominal head of the country. The PM on the other hand is the elected leader of the party with majority in the Indian parliament, and is the political head of the country for all practical purposes. President Obama is therefore providing the stature of a full-fledged state visit to Dr. Manmohan Singh's visit, and he will have the honor to attend the first state dinner of Obama's Presidency tomorrow.

Today I attended the luncheon with the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The luncheon, organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in coordination with the U.S.-India Business Council, is the only agenda item in the PM's itinerary reserved for a dialogue with the business community of the two countries. Dr. Manmohan Singh, a noted economist and probably the most qualified PM ever in the Indian history, was the chief architect of India's economic reforms that started in 1991, and is credited with turning around the economic fortunes of the world's biggest democracy. India has now become one of the fastest growing major economies in the world. He shared his vision of the U.S.-India business partnership and gave a clear signal that India Inc. is open for business and encouraged foreign investment in almost all major sectors of the country's economy.

The PM and his Congress party gained a comfortable majority during the national election in India this summer, and has therefore received the necessary public mandate to continue economic liberalization without relying on any external political partners, which frustratingly had been the case earlier during his previous term.

It was an honor to be part of the select group of business professionals who were invited to represent the interest of the business community of both the countries at the famous International Hall of Flags in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce building in Washington DC. Our group included U.S. government officials, senior business executives and CEOs of prominent firms from both the countries including Indra Nooyi (PepsiCo), Dave Cote (Honeywell), Paul Jacobs (Qualcomm), Ellen Kullman (DuPont), Terry McGraw (McGraw-Hill Companies), Rata Tata (Tata Group), Mukesh Ambani (Reliance Industries), Sunil Bharti Mittal (Bharti Group, the largest mobile carrier in India), Chanda Kochar (ICICI bank, the largest private sector bank in India), O.P. Bhatt (State Bank of India), etc.

November 9, 2009

Two speaking engagements in Europe - Monaco Media Forum & TiE UK

I just landed in London on couple of speaking engagements in Europe. The main event is the Monaco Media Forum (MMF) in Monte Carlo later this week. I'm speaking on a panel discussing "The Living Room War: Redefining Television." It should be an interesting conversation, and I'll write about it after the conference.

Here is a blurb on the conference from its site:

"Now in its fourth year, MMF brings together leaders of new and old media
for two and a half days of high-level discussions about the future of online,
broadcast and print communications. Hosted by HSH Prince Albert II, the
invitation-only event focuses on emerging opportunities in technology,
distribution and content, along with related developments in marketing and

This is my first time at MMF, so I'm looking forward to it. From what I've been told from previous attendees, unlike many open conferences where you may have a few thousand attendees, making the conference unwieldy and difficult for attendees to have a close one-on-one interaction, the invitation-only MMF provides close interaction between the few hundred invited folks.

Since I was on my way to Monaco along with a few other MMF attendees from the U.S., the U.K. chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) requested us to speak to their members and have hosted an event today evening at the CASS Business School in London. The topic is "Bridging the Pond – A Roundtable Conversation Innovation and funding in Media and state of Advertising in US and UK." I've been involved with TiE for over ten years now, and am a Charter Member with their Silicon Valley chapter, so I felt obligated to accept their invitation. In addition, I thought it will be good to get a sense of the entrepreneurship scene in London.

And finally, I'm taking a few days off for personal time after the MMF. It has been quite busy few weeks after I announced that I'm leaving NBCU in early October. I'm doing a road trip along the French and Italian rivieras. This should be the most exciting part of my trip. I did not get a chance to do much research and properly plan the road trip, but with the help of suggestions from a few friends, I settled on driving around the Mediterranean coastline and checking out quaint small towns on both the rivieras. I'll spend more time on the Italian side than the French side.

I shall post pictures during my travel diary. Not sure how much Internet connection I will have in those small towns, but I'll definitely post pictures after the trip if I can't during it.

November 4, 2009

Speaking at the Columbia Business School today

I expected a more relaxed schedule after announcing my departure from NBC Universal few weeks back. Unfortunately it has not been so thus far. I spent the week of October 19 in California - spoke at the Digital Hollywood conference in LA early part of the week, and then spent a few days at the Web 2.0 in San Francisco on my way back to NYC.

I'm off to Europe on Sunday to speak at the Monaco Media Forum, but am planning to get some personal time during that trip (more on that later).

Today I'm a guest speaker for a 2nd year MBA class at the Columbia Business School. I always love a dialogue with students. America has arguably the best higher education infrastructure in the world, including the best business schools. In fact, this has been one of the biggest competitive advantages of U.S., and will remain so at a time when questions are being raised on the country's continued dominance in the future as the #1 global economic superpower amidst much faster growing emerging economies like China, India, etc.

When it comes to business education, I believe that MBA programs need to be more steeped in real business environment than they have been in the past. There has to be a tighter cooperation/engagement between daily classroom training and actual real-world situations. In fact, there are some who argue that MBA education, as it stands today, is a total waste of time. Students graduate with theoretical frameworks and un-realistic expectations which fail miserably in the real world.

One of the hottest topics of today, after a handful of unfettered, greed-driven American financial institutions almost single handedly brought down the global economy, is whether capitalism is the best economic framework to run a country. I'm still a strong believer in capitalism, having grown up in India's government-controlled market system and seen its serious limitations (before India liberalized its economy in 1991 and invited foreign investment). However, ethics is a core component of capitalism. The U.S. economic debacle was a failure to observe rules of ethics, not the failure of capitalism itself. This requires managers to maximize value to "stakeholders" not just "shareholders." Stakeholders include shareholders plus customers & society, without which no business enterprise can make money in a sustainable manner over the long run.

The format of business case studies, which simulate real-world situations, was deployed in business schools as a step to expose business students to real world situations. However, it is very easy to discuss, say, a case on business ethics in a classroom and decide what is right and wrong in a vacuum when participants are not personally involved in that situation in an actual work setting. It is far more difficult to do that in a real-life situation, say, at your job, because the right answer usually has shades of grey, instead of black or white, and decision makers have personal stakes/interests involved.

Unlike science, where we have empirically proven laws which always stay the same, the practice of running a company and generating returns for shareholders is an art. It evolves constantly. There are several external influencing factors including market environment, regulatory laws, political and social changes, trade, technology, etc, which are constantly changing, thus requiring real-time adjustments to business practices. Real-life experience dealing with such fluidity therefore becomes a more critical determinant of success in business than a classroom training.

For someone who finished his MBA back in 1997, an interaction with current MBA students is therefore always fun. Looking forward to it.